Anne Lamott

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Anne Lamott's Nuggets of Wisdom from her book, Bird by Bird (Part 1)

Novelist and productivity expert Nicholas Erik wrote about this 80/20 Checklist for authors where he suggested reading 30 minutes of craft or fiction books in a day.

As of this writing, I’m reading two: Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott and Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert.

In this post, I’d like to share these nuggets of wisdom from reading (so far) Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. This is only Part 1 as I’ve not finished the book yet.

But I am compelled to share with you her actual words which, for me, inspired and resonated greatly.

Her words are simple and easily understandable, and for that reason, do not need additional explanations.

I hope you’ll feel motivated and inspired by these excerpts from her book, just as I did.

Anne Lamott
“Very few writers really know what they are doing until they’ve done it.”
Anne Lamott

On Writing:

 “One can find in writing a perfect focus for life. It offers challenge and delight and agony and commitment.”

“In this dark and wounded society, writing can give you the pleasures of the woodpecker, of hollowing out a hole in a tree where you can build your nest and say, “This is my niche, this is where I live now, this is where I belong.” And the niche may be small and dark, but at last you will finally know what you are doing. ”

“You don’t even have to know how or in what way, but if you are writing the clearest, truest words you can find and doing the best you can to understand and communicate, this will shine on paper like its own little lighthouse. Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.”

You simply keep putting down one damn word after the other, as you hear them, as they come to you.”

“So why does our writing matter, again?” they ask.

Because of the spirit, I say. Because of the heart. Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul.”

Writing can be a pretty desperate endeavor, because it is about some of our deepest needs: our need to be visible, to be heard, our need to make sense of our lives, to wake up and grow and belong.”

“Very few writers really know what they are doing until they’ve done it.”

On the One-Inch Picture Frame Writing Style 

“… All I have to do is to write down as much as I can see through a one-inch picture frame. This is all I have to bite off for the time being. All I am going to do right now, for example, is write that one paragraph that sets the story in my hometown, in the late fifties, when the trains were still running. I am going to paint a picture of it, in words, on my word processor. Or all I am going to do is to describe the main character the very first time we meet her, when she first walks out the front door and onto the porch. I am not even going to describe the expression on her face when she first notices the blind dog sitting behind the wheel of her car—just what (I) can see through the one-inch picture frame, just one paragraph describing this woman, in the town where I grew up, the first time we encounter her.”

“… a one-inch piece of my story to tell, one small scene, one memory, one exchange.”

“E. L. Doctorow once said that “writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” You don’t have to see where you’re going, you don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you. This is right up there with the best advice about writing, or life, I have ever heard.”

“…Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”

“Perfectionism will ruin your writing, blocking inventiveness and playfulness and life force.”
Anne Lamott

On Writing First Drafts:

“The first draft is the child’s draft, where you let it all pour out and then let it romp all over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it and that you can shape it later. You just let this childlike part of you channel whatever voices and visions come through and onto the page. ”

“What I’ve learned to do when I sit down to work on a shitty first draft is to quiet the voices in my head.”

“Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something— anything—down on paper. A friend of mine says that the first draft is the down draft—you just get it down. The second draft is the up draft—you fix it up. You try to say what you have to say more accurately. And the third draft is the dental draft, where you check every tooth…”

“Writing a first draft is very much like watching a Polaroid develop. You can’t—and, in fact, you’re not supposed to— know exactly what the picture is going to look like until it has finished developing.”

On Perfectionism:

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft.”

“… if you want to write, you get to, but you probably won’t be able to get very far if you don’t start trying to get over your perfectionism.”

“Perfectionism is a mean, frozen form of idealism, while messes are the artist’s true friend.”

On Writing your Story’s Characters:

“Knowledge of your characters also emerges the way a Polaroid develops: it takes time for you to know them.”

“Get to know your characters as well as you can, let there be something at stake, and then let the chips fall where they may. ”

“Bad things happen to good characters, because our actions have consequences, and we do not all behave perfectly all the time. As soon as you start protecting your characters from the ramifications of their less-than-lofty behavior, your story will start to feel flat and pointless, just like in real life.

On Books:

“Because for some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die.”

On the Writer as a Reader:

Becoming a writer can also profoundly change your life as a reader. One reads with a deeper appreciation and concentration, knowing now how hard writing is, especially how hard it is to make it look effortless. You begin to read with a writer’s eyes. You focus in a new way. You study how someone portrays his or her version of things in a way that is new and bold and original. You notice how a writer paints in a mesmerizing character or era for you, without your having the sense of being given a whole lot of information, and when you realize how artfully this has happened, you may actually put the book down for a moment and savor it, just taste it.”

BOOKS BY ANNE LAMOTT

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BOOKS BY NICHOLAS ERIK

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YOU MIGHT WANT TO CHECK THESE OUT:

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